The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a term for feudally dependent peasants in ancient Rus’ and other Slavic countries. Sources dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, for example, the Russkaia Pravda, refer to smerdy in Kievan Rus’ and Poland and among the Polabian Slavs. In Rus’, smerdy were peasants who had gradually lost their freedom, either completely or partially; the legal status of individual groups of smerdy varied.

Unlike slaves, smerdy in the 11th and 12th centuries owned property and paid fines for the offenses they committed. They did not have full legal rights; the bloodwite for a smerd was the same as for a kholop. The property of a smerd who died without heirs reverted to the prince. The Russkaia Pravda prohibited the torture of smerdy during juridical investigations without the prince’s authorization.

Beginning in the early 12th century, lands populated by smerdy came under the ownership of individual feudal lords. Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries, narratives of events in Galich-Volyn’ and Novgorod make mention of smerdy. In several instances in this period, the term smerdy evidently referred to the entire rural population of a locality. In the 14th and 15th centuries the smerdy of Novgorod and Pskov appear in the sources as peasant-proprietors, owning land individually or collectively (in obshchiny, or communes) and possessing the right to freely dispose of their own allotments. However, their personal freedom was limited: they were forbidden to move to another land or to come under the protection of the prince; the prince was forbidden to accept complaints against a lord. The smerdy likewise had to fulfill certain obligations—“tributes” (dani) or labor services—to the city as a collective feudal seignior.


Pravda Russkaia, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Iushkov. S. V. Obshchestvenno-politicheskii stroi i pravo Kievskogo gosudarstva. Moscow, 1949.
Grekov, B. D. Kievskaia Rus’. [Moscow] 1953.
Cherepnin, L. V. “Iz istorii formirovaniia klassa feodal’no-zavisimogo krest’ianstva na Rusi.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 56. Moscow, 1956.
Smirnov, I. I. Ocherki sotsial’no-ekonomicheskikh otnoshenii Rusi XII-XIII vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1963.
Zimin, A. A. Kholopyna Rusi. Moscow, 1973.

B. N. FLORIA [23–1795–]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
His historiographical essay on the concept of feudalism argues that, contrary to Roger Portal, Manfred Hellmann, and others, the smerdy were not free and feudalism did exist in Kievan Rus'.